Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) in Montreal (Canada)
Collaborative vs. individual writing among young EFL learners in a school context
Since Swain’s (1995) Output Hypothesis and Long’s (1996) Interaction Hypothesis, the potential of interactive output tasks for language learning has been firmly established. Although most research has concentrated on oral language (Storch, 2002), an emerging body of work on collaborative writing in L2 contexts has found quite unanimously that it promotes accuracy to a greater extent than individual writing, although no differences have been found in fluency or complexity (see Storch, 2011 for a review). In line with these gains in accuracy, when authors have analyzed the language related episodes (LREs) (Swain & Lapkin, 1988) pairs generate while writing together, the overwhelming majority were devoted to discussing the language form. Authors have thus concluded that, when writing to learn, collaborative writing might be very effective for enhancing accuracy (Manchón, 2014; Philp, Adams & Iwashita, 2014).
This study extends the possibilities of collaborative writing to an underresearched population: young learners of English as a foreign language. More specifically, it examines the writings of 59 11-year-old students of English in the same school in Northern Spain. All the learners had to write a composition based on a picture prompt. They were divided in two groups. In one group (N=19) the learners produced the composition individually and in the other group (N=40) the learners produced the composition in pairs and their conversation was recorded. The writings were analyzed by coding the three main dimensions of language performance, complexity, accuracy and fluency (CAF) and, in the case of the pairs, the LREs generated during the conversations were also codified.
Results show that the pairs generated a large number of LREs, mostly form-focused (72%), and their outcome was target-like (72.22%), which might per se be positive for learning (Payant & Reagan, 2018). Nevertheless, contrary to previous studies, their interactions did not result in their writing better compositions than the individuals: no differences in any of the CAF measures were found when comparing the compositions written individually with the compositions written in pairs. The young age, the setting, and the low level of proficiency of the students are discussed as possible explanations for these unexpected results.